Tag Archives: robots

#441010 Robots that can feel cloth layers may ...

New research from Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute can help robots feel layers of cloth rather than relying on computer vision tools to only see it. The work could allow robots to assist people with household tasks like folding laundry. Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#440984 Robots and AI Could Optimize Lithium-Ion ...

Cutting-edge electronics, including electric vehicles and the latest smartphones, all depend on batteries whose chemistries are still largely developed manually by trial and error. Now, a new study reveals that artificial intelligence can direct robots in rapidly finding advanced new battery formulations. A team of scientists detailed their findings online 27 September in the journal Nature Communications.
The conventional techniques for developing new batteries can take years because researchers have to experiment with many possible components. This is complicated by the need to achieve multiple competing goals, such as longer life, greater capacity, faster charging, and improved safety.
“The kind of lithium-ion battery you might find in a Tesla EV may have one primary salt—typically lithium hexafluorophosphate—as well as two or three liquid solvents in which the salt is dissolved and one or two additives that are secret,” says Jay Whitacre, an energy technologist at Carnegie Mellon University who was co-senior author of the Nature Communications paper. “There are many compelling potential combinations of all these components, potentially with multiple salts, five or six or more solvents, multiple additives, which can be incredibly complicated to rifle through.”
In the new study, researchers sought to accelerate battery development by coupling a robotics platform named Clio with an AI called Dragonfly in order to find the best combination of battery components in an autonomous manner.
“It’s like putting peanut butter and chocolate together,” Whitacre says. “I’m the experimentalist who has always wanted to find a way to mix up chemicals for batteries in an automated way,” whereas study co-senior author Venkat Viswanathan “is the computer-modeling machine-learning person who wanted to take people out of the loop.”
In the new study, the system autonomously experimented with lithium hexafluorophosphate salt and the solvents ethylene carbonate, ethyl-methyl carbonate, and dimethyl carbonate. (In a lithium-ion battery, a salt dissolves in one or more solvents to form a liquid electrolyte. Lithium ions move from one electrolyte to another to carry electric charge.)
The robotic system used pumps to inject various combinations of solvents into pouches with a lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide cathode and a graphite anode. “There wasn’t a person telling the system what to do; the system decided what to do,” Whitacre says.
In 42 experiments over two working days, the system autonomously identified six electrolytes that enable faster charging than a conventional electrolyte composition. This approach hit upon the new chemistry six times as fast as it would likely have taken to discover it via a random search.
The researchers note their system likely performs more experimental measurements per day than an average human operator and uses about 30 percent as many lab materials. In the future, they suggest their system may prove 20 to 1,000 times as efficient as people doing this work.
The sole goal of these experiments was a faster-charging battery. However, the scientists note this system can also pursue multiple objectives simultaneously.
“As we dive more and more into this project, we’re aiming at true exploration and discovery with more complicated possible combinations of electrolytes placed into many test cells to see what does and does not work,” Whitacre says. Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#440977 Weaponized Robots Letter Calls for ...

Yesterday, six companies that build or support sophisticated mobile robots (led by Boston Dynamics)
published an open letter to the robotics community and industry pledging to not weaponize their general purpose robots. Along with Agility Robotics, ANYbotics, Clearpath Robotics, Open Robotics, and Unitree, Boston Dynamics’ letter seeks to ensure that its robots are used safely and ethically, in a way that helps rather than harms.

Boston Dynamics, and others, find themselves in an increasingly difficult position. These companies are striving to make useful, general-purpose robots, and that means making them useful for anything—even things that they should not be used for. There have been a bunch of high-profile examples of robot misuse recently (that we’re not going to link to), and the companies building the robots being misused have taken it personally—as they should, because those misused robots are very easy to identify. Plus any misperceptions that these misused robots could be autonomous (though they aren’t) makes an implied false connection between the actions of the robot and the ethics of the company.

The letter is just one step, and not the first for any of these companies, towards friendlier, safer robots. But it’s going to take a lot of difficult, complicated steps, and there isn’t even an obvious path forward: as we heard from many of these folks a couple of years ago, it’s hard to maintain responsibility for robots out in the world.

With this complexity in mind, we spoke with Brendan Schulman, Vice President of Policy & Government Relations at Boston Dynamics, to better understand what this letter means.

An Open Letter to the Robotics Industry and our Communities,
General Purpose Robots Should Not Be Weaponized

We are some of the world’s leading companies dedicated to introducing new generations of advanced mobile robotics to society. These new generations of robots are more accessible, easier to operate, more autonomous, affordable, and adaptable than previous generations, and capable of navigating into locations previously inaccessible to automated or remotely-controlled technologies. We believe that advanced mobile robots will provide great benefit to society as co-workers in industry and companions in our homes.

As with any new technology offering new capabilities, the emergence of advanced mobile robots offers the possibility of misuse. Untrustworthy people could use them to invade civil rights or to threaten, harm, or intimidate others. One area of particular concern is weaponization. We believe that adding weapons to robots that are remotely or autonomously operated, widely available to the public, and capable of navigating to previously inaccessible locations where people live and work, raises new risks of harm and serious ethical issues. Weaponized applications of these newly-capable robots will also harm public trust in the technology in ways that damage the tremendous benefits they will bring to society. For these reasons, we do not support the weaponization of our advanced-mobility general-purpose robots. For those of us who have spoken on this issue in the past, and those engaging for the first time, we now feel renewed urgency in light of the increasing public concern in recent months caused by a small number of people who have visibly publicized their makeshift efforts to weaponize commercially available robots.

We pledge that we will not weaponize our advanced-mobility, general-purpose robots or the software we develop that enables advanced robotics and we will not support others to do so. When possible, we will carefully review our customers’ intended applications to avoid potential weaponization. We also pledge to explore the development of technological features that could mitigate or reduce these risks. To be clear, we are not taking issue with existing technologies that nations and their government agencies use to defend themselves and uphold their laws.

We understand that our commitment alone is not enough to fully address these risks, and therefore we call on policymakers to work with us to promote safe use of these robots and to prohibit their misuse. We also call on every organization, developer, researcher, and user in the robotics community to make similar pledges not to build, authorize, support, or enable the attachment of weaponry to such robots. We are convinced that the benefits for humanity of these technologies strongly outweigh the risk of misuse, and we are excited about a bright future in which humans and robots work side by side to tackle some of the world’s challenges.


IEEE Spectrum: There have been some similar letters in the past where the robotics industry has advocated against weaponizing robots. Why is this letter different?

Brendan Schulman, VP of Policy & Government Relations, Boston Dynamics: This is the first time that companies which are developing and selling general-purpose robots—that are increasingly being used in workplaces and communities—have gotten together to say something about this issue. I think that makes it distinct from other efforts that have been going on in a broader robotics context for a number of years. It’s not about military robots per se, and that’s made quite clear in the letter. We’re not taking issue with weapons systems that are already governed by an international legal framework.

We’re calling on policymakers to do something about this issue. We acknowledge that our commitment alone is not enough to address the ethics and public trust concerns.

—Brendan Schulman, Boston Dynamics

The focus of the letter is on these new, widely accessible general-purpose commercial robots, where in some cases we’ve lately seen people potentially misusing them by weaponizing them. And that’s the issue for us, because that’s an ethical concern as well as the risk of a loss of public trust in robotics—that the public will begin to feel that all of these companies developing these highly advanced mobile robots are just one step away from deploying weapons in our communities, when in fact the whole point is to create robots that help people and do good things.

Before publishing the letter signed by these six companies, did you contact anyone else? Did any companies decline to participate?

Schulman: These are the companies that happened to be discussing this issue for the last few months, just among themselves. We decided to get together and publish this letter after a summer of a number of prominent stunts involving people weaponizing commercially available robots. We thought it was time to say something about that.

We invite everyone to join us, and we certainly welcome a broader group—not just industry, but across academia and government.

What do you hope this letter will accomplish?

Schulman: It’s important to keep in mind that we’re calling on policymakers to do something about this issue. We acknowledge that our commitment alone is not enough to address the ethics and public trust concerns. And we really want to figure out what types of policy solutions could be put in place to address this risk, as well as what kinds of technology solutions might exist or might be developed.

In the drone space, for example, where I worked previously, one of the technology-based solutions to public accountability concerns for drones was Remote ID, which targeted the anonymity of drone operations. There may be solutions like that in the general purpose robotics space as well, and this letter is committing to exploring whether there are such solutions and how to develop and implement them. But it’s an open question.

I would like to think that we’ve gone a step further with this letter, both in bringing together the broader industry, but also really reaching out to policymakers as well as technologists to say, “work with us to help solve these challenges.”

The letter focuses on “weaponized” robots. What does “weaponized” mean, exactly?

Schulman: This is part of the discussion we’ve been having in the industry and with other stakeholders.

One of the examples that has come up in discussions is about a year ago,
a drone in Peru was equipped with a knife and used to free a pigeon that got tangled in power lines. That sounds like a weaponized robot, but it was used for a beneficial purpose, and I don’t think any of us would object to that. So there’s a nuanced and detailed discussion to be had, and some of us are beginning to have that conversation, and we hope to continue it with policy makers: how do we define weapon, and how do we define what a robot is in terms of the capabilities that we are concerned about when it comes to misuse.

Our goal is to arrive at something more specific than just this initial letter, which is really just the beginning of the conversation. A lot of these definitional questions and parameters for what kinds of weapons and robots would be included in a policy-based prohibition is exactly the discussion we want everyone to have, including the broader robotics community, academia, government, civil rights stakeholders, and law enforcement agencies. This is a discussion that doesn’t start or end with industry alone.

What doesn’t exist is a framework for how advanced commercial robots are being used in society, and how we might impose limitations on their misuse, specifically weaponization.

—Brendan Schulman, Boston Dynamics

For Boston Dynamics, I can say that we prohibit and would condemn any device on the robot that is designed to harm humans. I think that’s a pretty broad category; obviously there are weapons known as “less-lethal” weapons, but those are still designed to harm or incapacitate. And our company would prohibit those. When you start talking about devices that could be used to harm someone, but that are really designed to do something else, then you start to have a more difficult line to draw. But I think in this early era of advanced mobile robots, it will be pretty clear.

The letter is very specific that it does not support the weaponization of general-purpose robots. Does that leave companies that sign this letter free to develop robots for other purposes that may include weaponization?

Schulman: What we’re focusing on with this coalition are the kinds of robots that are more affordable, adaptable, accessible, and easy to operate. That is a new thing, and that’s the kind of new thing that we have increasingly seen raising concerns among members of the public, among government stakeholders, within the media, and within the robotics and academic communities as well.

What’s not new is that militaries have long had what could be described as weaponized mobile robots. Those weapons systems are not what the letter is about. If a defense contractor is developing a weapons system for the military that is to be used by the military under existing legal doctrines and conventions on warfare, and it’s subject to those safeguards rather than out there for public purchase and use, that’s absolutely in a different category—that whole development, procurement, and use process exists under a framework that’s been developed for decades, and certainly there are ongoing ethics discussions in that context too. What doesn’t exist is a framework for how advanced commercial robots are being used in society, and how we might impose limitations on their misuse, specifically weaponization.

But, I think there needs to be a nuanced discussion about what kinds of constraints we might ask policymakers to impose, and what we do about products that potentially cross over from civilian to military use. It’s a complicated question that needs to be discussed more broadly.

What happens next? How do you hope technology and policy can be leveraged to make progress towards the goals of this letter?

Schulman: Let’s start with technology. This is a call for the exploration of potential solutions, which could be anything from a remote identification and accountability mechanism, as we’ve seen lately on consumer aerial robots, to things like data logging or payload detection or perhaps remote disabling technologies. It’s something that we are starting to explore, and we very much invite ideas for other technology-based solutions that might help address this concern.

Policymakers are likely to focus on proscribed conduct, which would potentially prohibit the weaponization of a robot. You’d have to define what kinds of weapons, and what kinds of robotic technologies these prohibitions would apply to, so it would require some thoughtfulness. There have been bills introduced over the years that have prohibited weaponized drones, and I think that other robots could follow a similar pattern in that over time; policymakers and other stakeholders figure out what kind of conduct is the real concern, and what legal provisions would prohibit that.

We’d love to continue discussing these issues with policymakers. Again, this is really just the beginning, and in some cases, members of this coalition have been in discussions with policymakers about this for a while. I think the letter demonstrates that there is a broad sentiment by the advanced mobile robotic industry, across three continents, that something should be done. But certainly the robotics community is far broader than just us, and it would be great to hear more ideas. I hope the letter will spur these additional conversations, and perhaps speed up the process of trying to reach solutions. Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#440940 Flying Robots 3D-Print Structures in ...

Flying 3D-printing robots modeled after wasps and birds may one day repair and build structures at remote sites beyond the reach of standard construction teams, a new study finds.

Construction robots that can 3D-print structures on sites may one day prove faster, safer, and more productive than human teams. However, construction robotics currently focuses mostly on ground-based robots. This approach is limited by the heights a robot can reach, and large-scale systems that require tethering to a power supply are limited in where they can be deployed.
In the new study, researchers drew inspiration from flying animals that are highly adept at construction. For instance, to incrementally build its nest, a barn swallow can overcome the limited payload it can carry in one flight by typically making some 1,200 trips between where it gets its construction material and its construction site.
“When animals want to build something large, they work together in swarms or collectives to do so.”
—Mirko Kovač, Imperial College London
The new robot fleet the researchers developed, which they call their aerial additive manufacturing system, can collectively and autonomously 3D-print structures while in flight. The fleet consists of two kinds of untethered quadrotor drones—BuilDrones that deposit materials in layers from nozzles, and ScanDrones that use standard optical cameras to continuously map the structures in 3D and monitor their quality.
“This combination of manufacturing and scanning with flying robots is very new,” says study senior author Mirko Kovač, a roboticist at Imperial College London and at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology in Dübendorf, Switzerland.
The drones work cooperatively from a single blueprint, adapting to variations in the geometry of the structure in real time as construction progresses. The robots are fully autonomous while flying, but a human supervisor can monitor data from the drones and intervene when necessary.
A question often asked about this approach is “Can you build something with one drone when one drone can carry relatively little?” Kovač says. The key to this strategy is not just using one drone “but many drones working together, which is what is also seen in the animal kingdom. When animals want to build something large, they work together in swarms or collectives to do so.”
The researchers developed four different mixtures with which the robots 3D printed. The robots, their software, the materials they build with, and the architecture they end up constructing all need to be designed together, Kovač says, an approach the researchers call “physical artificial intelligence.”
“We’re not just taking some material and putting it on a robot—the evolution of the material itself can be quite complex, and tailored to being integrable with a robot that has a relatively low payload,” Kovač says.
In experiments, the drones could manufacture a roughly 2-meter-high, 30-centimeter-wide, 72-layer cylinder from polyurethane insulation foam in 29 minutes. They could also build a 18-cm-high, 33-cm-wide, 28-layer cylinder from a cementlike material in 133 minutes. All in all, they achieved a manufacturing accuracy of 5 millimeters, acceptable within United Kingdom building requirements.
The scientists note their approach is potentially scalable to large numbers of robots working as a team. Potential applications may include “work at height, or in areas that are inaccessible—for example, facades of buildings, or remote structures that need very fast repair, such as pipelines,” Kovač says. Other potential uses may include construction in hostile locations or after natural disasters, the researchers say.
“We are now working on case studies with industrial partners to apply our approach to industrial problems,” Kovač says. “We may tailor our drones to one use case or the other—this may include bigger drones, or slightly different designs of drones.”
Kovač, along with architect Robert Stuart-Smith at University College London and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and their colleagues, detailed their findings online 21 September in the journal Nature. Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#440937 Video Friday: Humans Helping Robots

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

IROS 2022: 23–27 October 2022, KYOTO, JAPANANA Avatar XPRIZE Finals: 4–5 November 2022, LOS ANGELESCoRL 2022: 14–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALANDEnjoy today's videos!
Until robots achieve 100% autonomy (HA), humans are going to need to step in from time to time, and Contoro is developing a system for intuitive, remote human intervention.

[ Contoro ]
Thanks, Youngmok!
A one year update of our ongoing project with Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and RMUS Canada to investigate the capabilities of Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot for autonomous inspection and first response in the power sector. Highlights of the first year of the project, featuring the work of PhD student Christopher Baird, include autonomous elevator riding and autonomous door opening (including proxy card access doors) as part of Autowalks, as well as autonomous firefighting.
[ MARS Lab ]
Teams involved in DARPA’s Robotic Autonomy in Complex Environments with Resiliency (RACER) program have one experiment under their belts and will focus on even more difficult off-road landscapes at Camp Roberts, California, September 15-27. The program aims to give driverless combat vehicles off-road autonomy while traveling at speeds that keep pace with those driven by people in realistic situations.
Tool use has long been a hallmark of human intelligence, as well as a practical problem to solve for a vast array of robotic applications. But machines are still wonky at exerting just the right amount of force to control tools that aren’t rigidly attached to their hands. To manipulate said tools more robustly, researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), in collaboration with the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), have designed a system that can grasp tools and apply the appropriate amount of force for a given task, like squeegeeing up liquid or writing out a word with a pen.
[ MIT ]
Cornell researchers installed electronic “brains” on solar-powered robots that are 100 to 250 micrometers in size, so the tiny bots can walk autonomously without being externally controlled.
[ Cornell ]
Researchers at the University of California San Diego have developed soft devices containing algae that glow in the dark when experiencing mechanical stress, such as being squished, stretched, twisted or bent. The devices do not require any electronics to light up, making them an ideal choice for building soft robots that explore the deep sea and other dark environments, researchers said.
[ UCSD ]
Thanks, Liezel!
Our robotaxi is built to withstand a range of temperatures to ensure that the vehicle, and most importantly, its riders are never too hot or too cold… no matter the weather. Learn more about our thermal testing in the latest episode of Putting Zoox to the Test.
[ Zoox ]
Thanks, Whitney!
Skydio drones will do an excellent job of keeping you in frame, whatever happens.

[ Skydio ]
With the accelerated urbanization in the world, the development and utilization of the underground space are important for economic and social development and the survival of people's lives is important for all of us. Zhejiang University Huzhou Research Institute convened a robot team to conduct an underground space unknown environment exploration adventure in Yellow dragon cave. DEEP Robotics participate in this fascinated robot party and try out the underground challenges, also team up with the drone team (air-ground robot) to seek new collaboration.
[ Deep Robotics ]
The title of this video is “Ion Propulsion Drone Proves Its Commercial Viability,” but it seems like quite a leap from a 4.5 minute flight to reaching the 15 minute flight with a significant payload that would be required for last-mile delivery.

[ Undefined Technologies ]
Welcome to this week's edition of “How much stuff can you cram onto a Husky?”

[ Clearpath ]
In the Nanocopter AI challenge the teams demonstrated the AI they developed for Bitcraze AB’s Crazyflie nanocopters to perform vision-based obstacle avoidance at increasing speeds. The drones flew around in our “Cyberzoo”, avoiding a range of obstacles, from walls to poles and artificial plants. The drones were primarily scored on the distance they covered in the limited time but could gain extra points when flying also through gates.
[ IMAV ]
Watch this drone deliver six eggs to an empty field!

Sorry, I shouldn't be so snarky, but I'm still not sold on the whole urban drone delivery of groceries thing.
[ Wing ]
Flexiv is pleased to announce the launch of its ROS 2 driver to bring a better robot development experience for customers.
[ Flexiv ]
Northrop Grumman has been pioneering new capabilities in the undersea domain for more than 50 years. Manta Ray, a new unmanned underwater vehicle, taking its name from the massive “winged” fish, will need to be able to operate on long-duration, long-range missions in ocean environments without need for on-site human logistics support – a unique but important mission needed to address the complex nature of undersea warfare.
[ Northrop Grumman ]
Some unique footage from drones that aren't scared of getting a little wet.

[ Blastr ]
People tend to overtrust sophisticated computing devices, especially those powered by AI. As these systems become more fully interactive with humans during the performance of day-to-day activities, ethical considerations in deploying these systems must be more carefully investigated. In this talk, we will discuss various forms of human overtrust with respect to these intelligent machines and possible ways to mitigate the impact of bias in our interactions with them.
[ Columbia ]
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s success in landing the low-cost Mars Pathfinder mission in 1997 was viewed as proof that spacecraft could be built more often and for far less money — a radical cultural change NASA termed “Faster, Better, Cheaper.” The next challenge taken on by JPL was to fly two missions to Mars for the price of the single Pathfinder mission. Mars Climate Orbiter and the Mars Polar Lander both made it to the launch pad, on time and on budget, but were lost upon arrival at Mars, resulting in one of the most difficult periods in the history of JPL. “The Breaking Point” tells the story of the demise of these two missions and the abrupt end of NASA’s “Faster, Better, Cheaper” era.
[ JPL ] Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots